Small Towns, Big Ideas

NASHVILLE – “Small Towns, Big Ideas” was the theme of the 74th annual meeting of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, held Sunday, Nov. 22, through Tuesday, Nov. 24, in Nashville. More than 350 electric cooperative leaders from across the state attending the event were encouraged to be advocates for the communities they serve.

“Whether it be broadband expansion, political affairs or economic development, co-ops have unique opportunities to foster development in our service areas,” says David Callis, TECA executive vice president and general manager. “Concern for community is one of our guiding principles. The focus of this event – and the coming year – is to explore the real ways co-ops can demonstrate our commitment to rural and suburban Tennessee.”

During the meeting, elections were held for positions on the association’s board of trustees. Jeff Newman, general manager of Forked Deer Electric Cooperative in Halls; Dan Smith, a director from Middle Tennessee Electric Cooperative in Murfreesboro; and Jarrod Brackett, manager of Fort Loudoun Electric Cooperative in Madisonville, were elected to four-year terms.

Jim Coode, general manager of Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation in Clarksville, was named president of the board of trustees. John Collins, general manager of Chickasaw Electric Cooperative in Somerville, was named vice president; and Johnnie Ruth Elrod, a director with Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative in Centerville, was named secretary-treasurer.

Delegates also elected Tom Purkey, a director with Middle Tennessee Electric, to represent Tennessee on the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association board.

“Congratulations to those honored with leadership positions,” says Callis. “Their talents and ideas will be valuable as we continue our mission to serve Tennessee’s electric cooperatives and their members.”

The first annual TECA Top Tenn Communication Awards were presented during the event. Duck River Electric Membership Corporation received an award for Best External Newsletter or Magazine Section; Appalachian Electric Cooperative, Best Internal Newsletter; Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation, Best Website; and Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative, Best Use of Social Media. Duck River Electric Membership Corporation, Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative and Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative each received awards in the Wild Card category, with Chickasaw Electric Cooperative and Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative also earning Honorable Mentions.

“Effective communication is a powerful tool for modern electric cooperatives,” says Robin Conover, TECA’s vice president of communications and editor of The Tennessee Magazine. “We honor these winners for telling the electric cooperative story in a professional way across multiple platforms.”

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association represents Tennessee’s 24 electric cooperatives and the 2.1 million members they serve across rural and suburban Tennessee.

For more information
Trent Scott, Director of Corporate Strategy
Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association
615.515.5534 | tscott@tnelectric.org

 

There is a Cooperative Difference

While all electric utilities offer the same product, where it comes from makes a difference.

In the U.S., the vast majority of people receive their electricity from one of three types of utilities; investor-owned, municipal-owned or through their electric cooperative, which is owned and controlled by the people who use it. Let’s take a closer look at these three types of ownership models and see why it matters to you.

In the investor-owned model, the corporation is owned by a great number of stockholders who may or may not be real customers of the utility. Investor-owned utilities tend to be very large corporations such as Entergy, Con Edison or Excel. They serve large cities, suburban areas and some rural areas, too.

In most cases, investor-owned utilities (IOUs) have few employees in the communities where they operate. This, combined with the fact that they have outside investors whose sole motive is to make a profit on their investment, generally tends to lead to less personalized service. Consumer surveys confirm that IOUs have the lowest customer satisfaction ratings. About 72 percent of the U.S. population is served by investor-owned utilities.

Municipal electric systems, as the name implies, are government owned. They can serve large cities, like Los Angeles, Austin or Orlando, or smaller areas, like Jackson, Knoxville or Chattanooga.  In municipal systems, the city runs the utility with little to no meaningful oversight from the citizens. About 16 percent of the market is served by municipal utilities.

Rural electric cooperatives serve the smallest number of consumers, about 12 percent of the market, which equals 42 million people. There are more than 800 other electric co-ops in 47 states in addition to the 23 in Tennessee. While co-ops serve the fewest number of people, our electric lines cover more than 75 percent of the U.S. landmass. This is because we provide power where others once refused to go because of the low population density. Electric co-ops rank highest in member satisfaction among the three types of utilities. We believe this is because we serve member-owners, not customers.

As the electric utility business continues to evolve, we are committed to being there for you, our member, to provide for your electric energy needs. Unlike large investor-owned utilities, we are rooted right here in Tennessee. Over the years, we have answered the call to provide additional benefits and services because it is extremely important to us that our community thrives and prospers.  This is why Tennessee co-ops are active in economic development and energy efficiency and help to prepare young leaders for the challenges of tomorrow.

There is a cooperative difference. You own us, and we are here to serve you.

Adam Schwartz is the founder of The Cooperative Way a consulting firm that helps co-ops succeed.  He is an author, speaker and member-owner of the CDS Consulting Co-op.  You can follow him on Twitter @adamcooperative or email him at aschwartz@thecooperativeway.coop

Why electric co-ops replace utility poles

You probably don’t pay much attention to the utility poles in your neighborhood, but did you know these tall structures are the backbone of Tennessee’s distribution network?

Strong, sturdy utility poles ensure a reliable electric system, which is why co-ops routinely inspect the thousands of poles found on our lines. Throughout the year, crews check poles for decay caused by exposure to the elements. They know which poles are oldest and conduct inspections through a rotational process. Typically, a standard wooden distribution pole is expected to last more than 50 years.

Occasionally, poles need to be replaced for other reasons besides decay and old age. Weather disasters, power line relocation and car crashes are potential causes for immediate replacement. When possible, co-ops communicate when and where pole replacements will take place so that you stay informed of where crews will be working.

Here is a quick breakdown of how crews replace a utility pole:

When a pole needs to be replaced, crews will start the process by digging a hole, typically next to the pole being replaced. The depth of the hole must be 15 percent of the new pole’s height. Next, the new pole must be fitted with bolts, cross arms, insulators, ground wires and arm braces – all of the necessary parts for delivering safe and reliable electricity. Then, crews safely detach the power lines from the old pole. The new pole is then raised and guided carefully into position, and the lines are attached, leaving the new pole to do its job.

So, the next time you come across a co-op crew replacing a pole, use caution and know that this process ensures a more reliable electric system for you, our members.

Abby Berry writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.

Three keys to understanding the EPA plan on climate change

The U.S. is in the process of taking a giant step in the noisy process of changing how we generate and use electricity now that the Environmental Protection Agency has released the final version of its Clean Power Plan.

That contentious process will continue for years, or even decades, as advocates warn of nothing less than destruction of the economy on the one side and the destruction of the planet on the other.

This current energy focus is the result of President Obama’s August 3 announcement of what he called, “A plan two years in the making, and the single most important step America has ever taken in the fight against global climate change.”

Two days after that announcement, 16 states asked the EPA to put a hold on the plan, calling it illegal and saying it would raise utility bills.

The plan would reduce the burning of coal to produce electricity, which now generates more than one-third of our electric power, and increase the use of renewable energy sources like solar and wind. The huge effects of those changes, and the complex and controversial ways they would happen, guarantee that the Clean Power Plan will be setting the nation’s energy discussion for the foreseeable future.

Here are the key things to know about the EPA Clean Power Plan:

Over the next 15 years, the plan would change the U.S. energy economy

The Clean Power Plan targets the 1,000 fossil fuel-burning electric power plants in the U.S., aiming to cut carbon dioxide emissions by one-third.

The Plan also sets out a way for that to happen. It calls for states to work with the power industry and submit a carbon dioxide emission reduction plan to the federal government by September, 2016. A two-year extension can be requested. Reductions would begin in 2022 and would be completed by 2030.

To replace fossil fuels, the Clean Power Plan encourages renewable energy.

Opposition could delay the plan

The 16-state request for a delay actually seeks to kill the Clean Power Plan. The request, in the form of an August 5 letter to the EPA, says that the agency should hold off on implementing the plan because of the states’ intention to sue the EPA.

The planned lawsuit would claim that the law the EPA is using as a basis for the Clean Power Plan, the Clean Air Act, does not allow the EPA to require states to make such large-scale changes to their energy economies.

The EPA says the Clean Power Plan has been carefully written to comply with the law. The August 5 letter cites other objections to the Clean Power Plan, including that it would “coerce states to expend enormous public resources and to … prepare State Plans of unprecedented scope and complexity. In addition, the State’s citizens will be forced to pay higher energy bills as power plants shut down.”

Additional lawsuits are expected from other opponents.

There is also strong political opposition. Elected officials in Congress as well as state governments have called on states to refuse to submit carbon reduction plans.

Electric co-ops say plan would raise electric bills, hurt rural economy

Electric co-ops cite special concerns about the effects of the Clean Power Plan because of their higher share of low-income members and often already-fragile rural economies.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association warned of the expected increase in electric bills as a result of power-plant closures.

“Any increase in the cost of electricity most dramatically impact those who can least afford it,” said NRECA. “The fallout from EPA’s rule will cascade across the nation for years to come.”

Paul Wesslund writes on cooperative issues for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.

Why co-ops plan outages

Have you ever received a notification from the folks here at your local electric cooperative informing you of a “planned outage?” You may have wondered, “what is a planned outage?” and “why does my electric utility need to perform one?” Occasionally, the equipment we use to bring power to your home needs to be replaced, repaired or updated. When this happens, as a way to keep our crews and you safe, we plan an interruption to electric service.

We do our best to plan these outages during times when you will be least inconvenienced, so we often perform planned outages during school and business hours. We also try to avoid planning these outages during winter or summer months. We understand these are peak times of the year when you depend on running your heating and cooling units the most.

While they may sound slightly inconvenient, planned outages are actually beneficial to you, our members. Regular system upgrades are necessary for optimal performance, and they increase reliability. Repairing and upgrading our equipment is also critical to maintaining public safety. If older lines need to be replaced, we plan for it, repair or replace it, and that keeps everyone safe.

Planned outages also allow us to keep you informed of when and how long you will be without power. We can notify you long before an outage, so you can be prepared. We also keep you aware of when line crews will be working in your area.

Tennessee’s electric cooperatives want to make sure we are doing everything we can to keep you safe and to keep our systems running smoothly. So, the next time you hear about a planned outage, know that it is one of the best ways we can provide you with quality electric service.

Meghaan Evans writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.

Saving energy in the kitchen

The holidays are upon us, which means most of us will be spending a lot of time in the kitchen. Whether you are considering replacing an appliance or simply looking for small ways to be more efficient, here are some tips to help you save energy – and money!

It sits in the kitchen, quietly humming away to keep your food cold. Most people don’t think about their refrigerator that often – as long as it’s working. A refrigerator typically runs for several years without any problems – but that doesn’t mean it’s performing to its optimal capacity. Older refrigerators use more energy. Upgrading this appliance can bring a major return on your investment.

According to Energy Star, if your refrigerator is from the 1980s, replacing it with a new model could cut your electric bill by $100 a year. If you bought your refrigerator in the 1970s, the savings could be as much as $200 a year.

Cooking can also be a big energy expender – in more ways than one! But there are a few ways to save energy while cooking. Placing the lid on a pot of boiling water will trap heat and cause the water to come to a boil faster. And there is no need to preheat the oven when cooking a large piece of meat, like a turkey or ham (you do need to preheat when baking or cooking smaller dishes). And, if you are planning on using the oven for a long period of time – for instance, when you are cooking one of those large pieces of meat – you might be able to turn down your home’s thermostat. The simple act of cooking will add warmth to the home because the heat from the oven can raise the temperature in the kitchen and surrounding rooms. This is especially true if you are hosting a party. Once your home begins to fill with people, the temperature will quickly begin to rise.

Even after the meal is over, there are still ways for you to save energy. The first is to make sure that your dishwasher is full before it’s started. Next, make sure you are using the right setting on your dishwasher. Many newer dishwashers have sensors that detect how clean your dishes are. When these auto cycles are used, they will get dishes clean without wasting energy or water. The sanitize setting should rarely be used since it is energy intensive. It is also a good idea to make sure the filter at the bottom of the wash-tub is cleaned. This will help the washer work at its optimal level.

One of the cheapest and easiest ways to save energy in the kitchen is to replace existing lights with LEDs. Not only do they use less energy – you don’t have to replace them nearly as often. Plus, their costs have come down in recent years, making them far more affordable to install. (Note: if you currently have linear fluorescent lamps, converting to LEDs may be too expensive to justify).

As you can see, there are many different ways to practice efficiency in the kitchen, and who knows – you could even save enough money to treat the family to dinner out a couple of times a year.

Brian Sloboda is a senior program manager specializing in energy efficiency for the Cooperative Research Network, a service of the Arlington, Va.-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. The Cooperative Research Network monitors, evaluates, and applies technologies that help electric cooperatives control costs, increase productivity, and enhance service to their consumers. Additional content provided by ESource.

Singleness of purpose

What is the single purpose we have in running an electric cooperative? Serving our members by keeping the lights on and the rates low. You’ve heard us repeat that refrain for years. It doesn’t seem long enough for a mission statement, and it isn’t really a motto. It seems so simple and direct.

And, it is absolutely true. Just ask our members.

A number of years ago, an electric cooperative (not in Tennessee) hired a new general manager who promised to change the status quo. He did. His initial contact with the cooperative was as an outside consultant hired to review the organization and suggest changes that would revitalize and “improve” the business. Once hired, the manager immediately began to reorganize departments, change titles and revamp the entire cooperative. The changes he enacted were innovative and quite a bit different.

The changes — and the manager — didn’t last long. I remember that when he left, he made a statement to the effect that he was “good at tearing down walls and not so good at building and maintaining them.” There were a number of failures, but the core failure was that the changes became the focus. Instead of focusing on the one purpose of the cooperative, the focus was placed on the cleverness of the changes.

That doesn’t mean that change is a bad thing. But change for change itself isn’t necessarily good. Change that loses sight of our reason for existence is doomed to fail. It will fail the cooperative, the employees and the members.

The current political environment is one of the more intriguing in recent history. The U.S. Senate is on a different page than the House of Representatives, and both are on different pages than the administration. As I write this, the House itself is a house in disarray — facing significant difficulty in selecting a speaker. The nation’s foreign policy is in a transitional period in which it is difficult to differentiate between our traditional friends and enemies.

As if contending with those issues weren’t enough, we have one of the most, shall we say, “interesting” presidential primaries ever. It’s a banner year for the news media and political pundits and a ratings bonanza for talk shows.

For the rest of us — for most of us — it’s more than enough to cause concern about the future. We prefer our government to govern, not entertain.

I’ve attended a number of electric cooperative annual meetings this year where the members celebrated the co-op’s 75th year of existence. Over those seven and a half decades, these member-owned corporations have weathered ups and downs — from economic recessions to multiple natural disasters. Over their existence, these cooperatives have seen hundreds of directors and thousands of employees come and go, each contributing to the leadership and productivity of the utility.

Through the years and all the challenges, one thing has remained constant: the focus on keeping the lights on and rates low.

As long as we do that one thing correctly, other avenues open up for us to continue to improve and invest in the communities we serve. Countless other things are vitally important to our members: economic development, great customer service, effective communications and many other needs. But if we fail in our single purpose, it’s time to refocus on the one thing.

Here’s to 75 years of maintaining a singleness of purpose that has transformed a nation.

Can you drive a stick shift?

by Mike Knotts, director of government affairs
Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

The first “car” I drove on a regular basis was a 1981 Ford F-100 pickup truck. I’m sure thousands of you probably see a Ford F-150 parked in your driveway right now, but this was not the same vehicle. The F-100 was the least expensive truck the Ford Motor Company manufactured at the time, and this particular model was outfitted with the absolute fewest options available.

My dad bought this truck to use at his construction business. Simply put, it was intended to be a work truck, through and through, and was intended to do two things: haul building materials to the job site and haul garbage away. The truck had no power steering, no power brakes, no air conditioning, manual windows, manual door locks and a manual transmission for which the gearshift was mounted on the steering column. This “three-on-the-tree” shifter was mated with the tightest clutch ever to come from Detroit.

When it came time for me to learn to drive, this truck was an excellent teacher. My skinny teenage body struggled with the tight clutch and lack of power brakes, and parking at my high school was sometimes a challenge while I slowly cranked the tires around. But I learned a lot about how a car operates and have wonderful memories to help me appreciate all of the “push-button comfort” I now enjoy in my modern truck.

Well, much like that Ford F-100, the small device on the side of your home or business that measures how much electricity you consume has, for more than 70 years, been a pretty basic instrument. There was little need to do anything more than measure the amount of juice flowing from the distribution lines in to your home. Some of you may even remember the times when you would record your own use and mail it into the co-op.

Today, it is more likely that a person drives to your home or business once per month, gets out of the car, walks to the side of the house, building or barn, writes down the number, walks back to the car, gets inside and drives to the next location where he or she does it all over again. At the end of the day, the numbers on the meter reader’s clipboard have to be transferred to the co-op to be entered into the billing system that determines how much you will owe on the next bill. It is a lengthy, expensive and sometimes error-prone process.

However, those simple, analog electromechanical induction meters are extremely durable. The meter that serves my home is more than 40 years old and continues to operate. These meters, though, do have a tendency to “slow down” over time and record less electricity use than is actually being consumed. Knowing this fact, I admit I might allow a small smile to come over my face when I pay my bill. But the truth of the matter is that every other member of the co-op has to pay my difference when someone’s meter is not recording accurately. So we owe it to each other to fairly record our consumption.

Additionally, the requirements to operate the electric grid are becoming increasingly more complicated. The energy you require to power your air conditioner, for instance, must be available at the exact instant that you demand it (this is called creating a load or demand for energy). It takes billions of dollars of manpower and machinery to make that possible. And while that fact has always been the case, the use of the electric grid is increasing every day with millions of new devices, appliances and machines “plugging in.” Any one of these new loads, if not managed properly, has the potential to bring the whole system down.

Modern technology is changing the way the electric grid is managed. Automation is reducing the amount of time you are without power during an outage by reducing the need for a human being to drive to a location and reconnect or reclose a large fuse, for instance. Improved technology is reducing the amount of energy that is lost as it moves along power lines, saving money and helping keep electric rates low.

To keep the lights on in the 21st century, information is becoming as important as machines. Without real-time data about the use of the electric system, we are doomed to a 20th century lifestyle. That means the 40-year-old meter on the side of my house will be replaced with a new digital meter soon. I’m excited about it. It will reduce the need for human beings to drive around just to read my meter, reduce the chance of human error inaccuracies on my bill and save my co-op millions of dollars that are spent on unnecessary activities. That is money I don’t have to pay for through my electric rate.

My dad’s old F-100 did its basic job well, and he definitely got his money’s worth out of it. Eventually, though, it was time for a new truck with some upgraded features. The next truck had an automatic transmission and air conditioning, and it was a huge improvement!

Singleness of Purpose

What is the single purpose we have in running an electric cooperative? Serving our members by keeping the lights on and the rates low. You’ve heard – or said – that refrain for years. It is simple, direct and resonates with employees and members.

And, it is absolutely true. Just ask the members we serve.

A number of years ago, an electric cooperative (not in Tennessee) hired a new general manager who promised to change the status quo. He did. His initial contact with the cooperative was as an outside consultant hired to review the organization and suggest changes that would revitalize and “improve” the business. Once hired, the manager immediately began to reorganize departments, change titles and revamp the entire cooperative. The changes he enacted were innovative and quite a bit different.

The changes — and the manager — didn’t last long. I remember that when he left, he made a statement to the effect that he was “good at tearing down walls and not so good at building and maintaining them.” There were a number of failures, but the core failure was that the changes became the focus. Instead of focusing on the one purpose of the cooperative, the focus was placed on the cleverness of the changes.

That doesn’t mean that change is a bad thing. But, change for change itself isn’t always a good thing. Change that loses sight of our reason for existence is doomed to fail. It will fail the cooperative, the employees and the members.

As long as we do that one thing correctly, other avenues open up for us to continue to improve and invest in the communities we serve. Countless other things are vitally important to our members: economic development, great customer service, effective communications and many other needs. But if we fail in our single purpose, it’s time to refocus on the one thing.

Fayetteville PU constructs water treatment plant

Construction of Fayetteville Public Utilities’ (FPU) new water treatment plant is progressing as major components of the facility have been constructed and installed over recent months.

“The new water treatment plant has not only been a long-awaited vision for FPU, but also a necessity for the community,” says FPU’s CEO and General Manager Britt Dye. “As regulations and testing requirements become more demanding, we must be able to meet those guidelines by producing an even higher quality of water. The new water treatment facility will help us continue doing that now and for years to follow.”

FPU began construction of its new water treatment plant in 2014. Before construction of the plant facility itself began, FPU had to secure the membrane filtration system around which the new plant is being constructed. The new filtration system will improve water quality and availability for FPU customers and will serve projected growth of the community for the next several decades.

Earlier this year, the flash mix, flocculation, sedimentation and equalization basins were completed. As water is taken from the Elk River, it must first be pretreated with coagulants and other chemicals to aid in the subsequent treatment processes. This structure contains a 16-inch static mixer and chemical feed equipment to accomplish this first step in the process. The new plant has redundant trains for the flocculation and sedimentation processes which allow for maintenance and cleaning without a plant shutdown. Each train consists of two flocculation basins followed by a sedimentation basin and an equalization basin. A splitter box has also been constructed and will use large gates to allow operators to adjust flows between the two trains as needed.

IMG_0983In September 2015, the infrastructure for the membrane filtration system arrived and is being installed. Photos of the piping necessary to support the filtration operation show the complexity of FPU’s new filtration system.

The membrane filtration building floor contains extensive underground piping. Inside the filtration part of the new plant facility, racks of piping support the membrane filter cartridges and their components. This piping will carry water to and from the membranes as it is filtered.

The new water treatment plant will include a state-of-the-art SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) system. Power and control wiring in the thousands of feet will be required to energize and control the membrane filters, pumps and instruments. In addition to conventional copper wiring, fiber optic cable will also be used to provide secure and reliable connectivity.

The existing plant continues to operate during the new plant construction. FPU’s new water treatment plant is expected to be complete in early 2016.